On 5 August this year, Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, was abrogated with a presidential order.
And on 9 November, the Supreme Court verdict in the decades-long, communally and politically charged Ayodhya dispute ensured that a Ram Mandir is built at the no-longer-disputed location.
Thus, in a span of three months, two of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s biggest promises were realised, sparking speculation that legislation on a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), also a central promise in the BJP’s latest manifesto, may be in the offing.
While delivering a judgment legitimising the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867, the SC reportedly described Goa as a “shining example” with a Uniform Civil Code and said that the founders of the Constitution had “hoped and expected” a UCC for India but the government had made no attempt yet.
Most recently, on 15 November, the Delhi High court heard petitions, which sought the implementation of a UCC in the country.
So, what exactly is a Uniform Civil Code and why does it matter? Here’s all you need to know.
A uniform civil code here refers to a single law, applicable to all citizens of India in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, custody, adoption and inheritance.
It is intended to replace the system of fragmented personal laws, which currently govern interpersonal relationships and related matters within different religious communities.
Directive Principles are defined in Article 37, which proclaims:
“The provisions contained in this Part shall not be enforceable by any court, but the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws.”
Which effectively means that the vision of a Uniform Civil Code is enshrined in the Indian Constitution as a goal towards which the nation should strive, but it isn’t a fundamental right or a Constitutional guarantee. One can’t approach the court to demand a UCC.
But that doesn’t mean courts can’t opine on the matter.
In fact, the demand for a UCC came to the fore in the judgment pronounced in the Shah Bano Case in 1985, more than three decades after the Constitution was drafted.
Shah Bano moved Supreme Court seeking maintenance after her husband divorced her after 40 years of marriage by giving triple talaq and denied her regular maintenance. The SC bench, in a verdict in favour of Bano, observed:
In the 1995 Sarla Mudgal Case, Justice Kuldip Singh reiterated the need for Parliament to frame a Uniform Civil Code, which would help the cause of national integration by removing ideological contradictions.
The same suggestion reflects in the verdicts of other landmark cases such as Jordan Diengdeh vs SS Chopra and John Vallamattom vs Union of India.